The contempt powers of the court are divided into both criminal and civil contempt.

Generally criminal contempt is reserved where there is willful and blatant violation of court order where as the civil contempt is reserved for non-compliance or neglect of a court order.

In another word: Criminal contempt is a violation of the law, a public wrong which is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.

And the Civil contempt: is a sanction imposed by the court to enforce compliance with a court order or to compensate a party for losses or damages caused by noncompliance with a court order.

There is also Summary Contempt proceedings for actions and events that may occur in front of the court.

Specifically, criminal contempt may be punished summarily if the judge:

  1. Certifies that he or she saw or heard the conduct constituting the contempt;
  2. It was committed in the actual presence of the court.
  3. The order of contempt shall recite the facts and shall be signed by the judge and entered on the record.

There must also be a showing that:

  1.  Individual engaged in conduct in or near the court,
  2.  Individual’s conduct interfered with the orderly administration of justice, and
  3. The individual willfully or intentionally attempted to show disrespect for the court.


The civil contempt proceedings however are generally initiated by motion and apply to violation of:

1)Child custody order or even more pertinently; 2) Child support order or a civil protection order. However by Statute the violation of civil protection order are punishable as a criminal misdemeanor offense.

In child support court, the Corporation Counsel will file a motion for civil contempt for non payment of child support order within 60-90 days of violation and particularly if there is a history of non-compliance with court order for payment of support.

The civil contempt proceedings will be addressed via hearing held and if a significant or even a good faith effort is made toward compliance the case is either continued or dismissed.

In aggravated cases, and where there is repeated and willful disobedience of the court order, the Corporation Counsel may initiate a criminal contempt proceedings.

In such cases:

  1. All other appropriate administrative enforcement actions must have failed to collect overdue support; and
  2. The NCP (non custodial parent) has not made significant voluntary support payment’s within three months prior to the criminal contempt referral date; and
  3. There is a good faith belief by the Legal Service Section that demonstrates the NCP has the ability to pay child support

Administrative actions include:

  • Income Withholding
  • Financial Institute Data Match  (FIDM)
  • Credit Reporting
  • Federal and State Tax Refund Interception
  • Civil Contempt – (Two findings of fact, order of adjudication)
  • License Revocation
  • Contacting the NCP by phone, mail, or in-person
  • Lottery Interception
  • Worker’s Compensation Interception
  • Disability Income Withholding
  • Directories of New Hire and Quarterly Wage Searches
  • Notice Letter

Please refer to our DC child Custody and DC Child Support Lawyer pages for more information on this topic.

Categories: Criminal Defense and Family Law.